The investigation into the origin of the coronavirus risks ending up on a dead end

The investigation into the origin of the coronavirus risks ending up on a dead end

The time window in which something can still be discovered is rapidly closing. The alarm of the scientists and the next steps of the investigation

A man on a bicycle with a mask near the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, closed on January 1, 2020 (Photo: Getty Images / Stringer) The research on the origin of the coronavirus is at a standstill for now. Will we ever know where the pathogen first struck? The more time passes, the more difficult it will be to answer. To warn about the time that is running out, in an editorial in Nature, is the group of scientists who were part of the task force of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the mission to China that between January and February 2021 sought the first traces of the Sars-Cov-2 coronavirus. Researchers report the urgent need for blood tests on workers and wildlife breeders. But many farms and businesses are already closed and the animals have been culled, even erasing potential clues.

Hunting for farms

“Knowing the origins of a pandemic devastating is a global, science-based priority, "the experts write in the editorial:" Any delay will make some of the studies biologically impossible. " The time window in which something can still be discovered is rapidly closing, the scientists continue, if we think that most of the investigations are based on the detection of specific antibodies to Sars-Cov-2 that decrease over time. The idea is to carry out tests at the farms that supplied animals to the Huanan market in Wuhan, recognized as a central point for the spread of the virus. The farms and companies in question number 14 million workers, according to a 2016 census, but many have already closed, making it difficult to identify the origin of the pathogen.

What we know to date about the coronavirus

The task force went to Wuhan last January for a four-week mission, during which it attempted to shed some light through laboratory tests , surveys and questionnaires, on the first appearance of the coronavirus. In February, scientists concluded that the virus likely came from animals - the bat or the pangolin - while a leak from a laboratory is highly unlikely. The authors indicate that the pathogen was widely circulating as early as December 2019 and it is reasonable to think that the virus emerged earlier, although we don't know where and when. Surely the Huanan fish market, initially reported as a point of origin of the epidemic, played a central role and probably has links and interacts with wild animal markets.

The criticisms of the first evaluation

Immediately after the publication of this report, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the hypothesis of provenance from laboratories had not been adequately studied. In fact, in the editorial, the researchers argue that this possibility is mentioned in the report, even though the evidence was not such as to require a more extensive evaluation.

Another objection concerns the fact that China did not agree in the data and that the information available comes mainly from official studies and published in journals.

The next steps

The research, however, will not stop there. In July, WHO announced the creation of a committee for future investigations. This group, currently being formed, will be called Sago (Scientific advisory group for the origins of novel pathogens) and will further evaluate the possible role of laboratories in the origin of the virus. Until September 10, the applications (information here) of scientists who want to join the committee are open.

The establishment of this team is good news, even if the new study process - specify the authors on Nature - risks adding months of waiting that do not favor the achievement of the goal. Also in July, China refused to collaborate with WHO for a second phase of investigation, as reported by Reuters, and Deputy Minister Zeng Yixin of the Chinese National Health Commission reiterated that some information and raw data were not can be shared for privacy reasons. But scientists will also work on this, as explained by WHO's Maria Van Kerkhove in Science, to try to trace and base the investigation on scientific foundations and not on political debate.

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Animals China Coronavirus globalData.fldTopic = "Animals, China , Coronavirus "

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